Lately I’ve been reading about the changing landscape of the public relations profession. It seems that everywhere I look there are articles on the opportunities that public relations professionals have in today’s environment, how PR pros are increasingly getting the proverbial seat at the table, and the plethora of technological tools that are now available. As an educator, this caused me to wonder if we in higher education are preparing future PR practitioners to assume this seat at the table and best take advantage of this new environment or if we’re simply teaching the same old material from which we have always taught.
Some foundations of the profession will never change and should always be taught. Communication, for example, is and will always be the most vital aspect of the profession. However, the ways in which one communicates have changed quite a bit. PR students need not only learn superb writing skills but those skills must transfer to writing for new media and new audiences. Blogging, tweeting, and the like require not only foundational writing skills but also nuances in one’s writing that are medium and/or channel appropriate. As we educate future PR professionals, we must strive to give students the foundational skills we always have while giving them opportunities to hone their skills with new communication media and channels using the latest technology.
As PR pros increasingly gain access to the C-Suite and play a larger role within an organization, they will need to know more and more about the functions of business and how organizations work. As we educate future PR practitioners we must include courses in business, management, and organizational development. Courses such as these or others similar to them can help to give students insight into the who, what, why, where, and how of organizations. This knowledge will serve them well not only because they will know how their own organization functions, but they will also have a better appreciation for how other organizations work and the many dynamics and considerations surrounding the business enterprise. Having a 30,000 foot view of business will help PR pros of tomorrow be effective in their work.
Finally, we must teach our PR students what makes people and societies tick. We must expose them to courses in psychology, sociology, and anthropology so that they can see the interconnectedness of our world and how the PR profession relates to it. They need to understand why people do what they do and why groups and societies act in the many ways that they do. Our PR students need to understand the complicated dynamics of the human condition and what motivates people and groups in today’s fast-paced, immediate-news cycle-type of environment.
In essence, as the PR profession grows and widens to encompass so much more than the traditional PR role of yesteryear, so should the education of our future professionals grow and widen to equip them to take advantage of these new and exciting opportunities and to prepare them for life-long learning as the field continues to grow and evolve.